Andy Eversole – Banjo Earth: India – Day 19 – Tear Gas and Folk Music

Day 19 – Tear Gas and Folk Music

Srinagar, Kashmir

The batteries were low this morning. We have been going and going ever since arriving in Kashmir due to the marvelous planning and execution of the team here working on our behalf. I’m extremely thankful for all of their efforts and opportunities, but I’ve become very tired after 3 days here. I woke up, and immediately canceled our pickup so that we could rest for the morning. It was a much needed break. It allowed me to drink a couple cups of coffee, relax, and catch up on my blogs. 

He came every morning to sell me something. After four days, he finally broke through.

Being so busy, I have missed the last two days of blogs. An interesting thing happens to my memory on these Banjo Earth journeys. Over the course of only two days, so many things happen, so many little twists and turns, so many epic experiences, that it all begins to just melt into one big memory stew. I have to consult friends, pictures, and social media posts to remember the events of the last couple of days. Weeks of life are being crammed into days. This is the beautiful thing about traveling. Everyday is new, everyday is vibrant, and the realizations and changes in perspective are relentless.

Getting a Kingfisher in Kashmir is no small task

After resting and catching up on the work, we catch a boat across the lake to reach the car that awaits us. It has not yet arrived, and there is a few minutes to spare, so I break out the banjo and play a couple of tunes for the boatmen and taxi drivers that are standing around. Never miss an opportunity to bring joy and happiness into the world. The car finally arrives, and we head out through the narrow concrete alleyways.

Riverboat Banjo

We are going to a cafe called Chai Jaai to meet our friend Mahi for a performance of Kashmiri folk music. I’m excited because the sounds of the songs and instruments is very mesmerizing for me. They play a melody for sometimes thirty minutes or more as they sing a dramatic story in a call and response fashion. Much like our Appalachian ballad tradition, it is their ancient form of sharing stories and the news of the times. But it also just sounds so damn good!

Waiting for our ride

On the way to the cafe, we run into a bit of a scare. While driving, we hear a couple of explosions. People start scurrying around, and it is very easy to tell that something serious is happening. I have my window down, and an old guy across the street sees me, and motions for us to turn around and get out of there. It’s not so easy, because there is a lot of traffic and they are also trying to get turned around. Furthermore there is a deep ditch dividing both sides of the road that make a u-turn impossible. We try to remain calm, as the driver maneuvers us out of the situation. Apparently it was a couple of tear gas bombs used by the Indian military to disperse a protest crowd. There is a lot of tension here between the native Kashmiri population, who is primarily Muslim, and the occupying Indian forces, primarily Hindu. The rape and murder of an 8 year old girl by a prominent Hindu official’s son has further exacerbated the situation. Despite Kashmir’s incredible beauty and the warmth of it’s people, it’s pretty scary to be around this tension. It’s also eye-opening in a way, as it is unfortunately the reality of daily life for Kashmiris and many people around the world.

Tensions are high in Srinagar

After extracting ourselves from the situation, we take a different route through town, and finally end up at the cafe. It’s like a different world in there. The stark contrast is striking. People are sipping tea, working on their computers, and the folk music performance is about to begin in the next room. Newspapers are scattered about the table where we sit, all covered with stories regarding the young female victim of the murder. Mahi joins us as we finish our chicken sandwiches and oolong tea, and we settle in for the performance. 

Kashmiri Folk music band

The Kashmiri folk instruments are fascinating. There is the Rabab, an instrument that is somewhat similar to the banjo in sound, but has a lot more strings. There is also a couple of Sarangi players, which is a bowed instrument, similar to a violin, but also with many more strings. A Nout, which is a large percussion instrument, is played by the lead singer. And finally there is a Harmonium, which is a combination squeeze box and piano. You find this instrument in all forms of Indian folk and classical. It’s a mainstay of the sounds of this entire region. We sit, enjoy the performance, and taste a couple of treats they serve to the listeners. At set break, we get to chat with  the singer, as our friend Mahi translates. In talking with them, I find that they have been together as a band for 30 years!

Chatting with Mahi and the band

After the performance, we head back toward the boat for another early night. We have a delicious dinner and relax with a drink. Outside I can hear the chants and speeches of an angry population just across the lake. Friday (tomorrow) is prayer day in the Muslim faith, and I can feel the anger increasing with each sentence and song. We have been advised to stay on the boat tomorrow to ensure our safety. Things are a bit tense between the factions involved, though I feel safe in our surroundings and with the people looking out for us. I will be more relaxed however, when I am back in New Delhi, coughing up fumes, and trying to catch a rickshaw for a ride in the city. 

Another delicious Kashmiri meal

Andy Eversole – Banjo Earth: India – Day 18 – Mountain Drive

Day 18 – Mountain Drive – Srinagar, Kashmir

Another morning on the houseboat, another breakfast of coffee, omelette, toast, and porridge. The place is amazing, the dinners are delicious and varied, but the breakfast is quite consistent. Haha! Anyway, thankful for some food in the belly and for some good sleep. We have another full day of plans, and it’s time to get started early. The boat arrives to take us across the water at 9 am. Today Mursaleen, our original guide, picks us up and plans to take us to a far off Sufi shrine way up in the Kashmir mountains.

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Another beautiful Kashmir day

As we drive through Srinagar, I am taken aback by the difference of perception I feel of the area from the time we left the airport, to now, only a mere 48 hours later. The armed military guards everywhere, the horror stories, the warnings from Indians and foreigners alike were all coloring my experience directly off the plane. Now, such a short time later, I ride in the car in the same place, with the same companions, with a completely different perspective. I’ve gotten to know the area, the people who inhabit it, and the intricacies of the situation. My understanding is so much deeper, nuanced, and respectful than it was only 2 days ago. That goes to show that only experience, not heresy or news stories, can give you the real truth. Sure, you have to pay attention to the narrative that is going around, but only some intrepid exploration can really get you to the heart of a matter.

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A more nuanced understanding

The drive to the shrine is fascinating. We climb higher and higher in elevation, see some of the beautiful Kashmir countryside, and pass through little towns and villages that are bustling with activity. As we reach the site of the shrine about one hour later, the scene is pretty surreal. The shrine is to one of the great Sufi saints, and this little town is built around it on the top of a mountain. Outside the gates is a parking lot where vendors are selling street food, trinkets, and crafts. The people are very friendly and are very welcoming to us. This area is almost completely Muslim, and given the recent history of the struggles between the west and the Islamic world, one would think this would be a scary place to be. But, in actuality, I feel very calm, safe, and welcomed here.

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The Welcoming Kashmiri Smile

We have a few street snacks, then enter the shrine. It is beautiful, detailed, and ornate, like all religious structures here. Inside the very center, in a room, is the casket of the great Sufi saint, along with several other caskets. People come here to pray and give their respects to the deceased. There is rice and sweets that is blessed then given out to the devotees. We pay our respects, explore the area bit, then head back down the hill. Exhaustion begins to creep in and I have to catch a car nap, waking up just as we reach Srinagar. After a lunch and interview with our friend and guide, we get back to the hotel for about a 10 minute rest, before having to leave for the session with the band Meezan. These are the two guys I met for kava, a kashmiri tea yesterday. This time the whole band is in tow. They are waiting for us across the lake, and all six of us pile into Zeeshans compact car, and groove off to his house for a night of music and family.

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Packed into the car with the band Meezan

The whole family is there, including brothers, sisters, father, mother, and grandmother. They welcome us in with open arms and the warmth of their kindness is palatable. As usual custom, we have kava and cookies to get things started, then the collaboration begins. After setting up all the equipment and finding the proper audio levels, we begin constructing the song. This is truly the first co-write/live recording session in Banjo Earth history. The whole process of this sharing and creating is the true nature of the project, and really brings forth the spirit of Banjo Earth. It’s hard work, and complicated to write and arrange a song on the spot, but we persist, and eventually come up with something that we think will work.

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Searching for the Sound

But then comes the challenge of performing it live well enough to put in on a recording. This takes probably another two hours of work, and simply because of time, we have to shut down the sessions. It’s coming on 1030pm, which is late by Kashmiri family standards. Our last go at the recording is pretty good, though I feel like with some more practice, we could improve the song. Thus is the challenge and constraints of time and space. However, we did get something on wax and we’re all proud of our efforts. Dinner is waiting for us when we finish, so we gather at the table, and dig in with our hands, as is the custom.

Having a blast with Meezan

These guys are so much fun, and the family is incredible. I feel a lot of love coming from everyone involved here. This project takes us to some strange and exotic places, but the real heart is the people, and this experience shows why that is so true. Sharing music, sharing food, sharing laughs, sharing hugs…Connecting the world through the spirit of a banjo. This is the magic of Banjo Earth.

The magic of Banjo Earth

Andy Eversole – Banjo Earth: India – Day 17 – Guided By the Artist

Day 17 – Guided by the Artist

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Rainy morning boat ride across the lake

After a good night’s sleep in the big soft comfort of the houseboat bed, we awoke to a cool and rainy Kashmir day. Breakfast consisted of coffee, an omelette, toast, and porridge, the latter like a bland, thin form of our style of oatmeal. We had a full day planned out for us by our friends and benefactors of the region. Our friend Mahi, who had taken us around as we arrived, informed us that her father Masood, the famous Kashmir painter, would be our guide for the morning.

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Guided by the artist, Masood Hussain

He is a kind, warm, and interesting man. His work has been covered by the New York Times, the BBC, and many other international outlets. He shows us the news stories on his phone, as the driver takes us around Kashmir. Our first stop for the day is a Muslim shrine in the middle of Srinagar. It is a beautiful place with pigeons flying all around and people praying. We take off our shoes and begin heading inside, but the two guys at the door begin saying something to Masood, which he seems to be confused about. It turns out that they do not want us to go in to the shrine. He never really explains why, but I get the feeling it is either because we are obviously not Muslim practitioners, are carrying cameras, or Paul’s dreadlocks and earrings, which are so different than the norm as to be occasionally threatening to the sentiments here.

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A beautiful mosque, though we were not allowed inside

In any case, we are turned away, and we continue our tour of Srinagar. Next, we visit the University of Kashmir, the place where Masood was an art teacher many years back. He is obviously very revered, as his presence creates quite the stir at the school. Many gather around to visit, shake his hand, and see why he is here with two strange looking foreigners. They have arranged a meeting for us with the music department, and we make our way over to the building. Inside there is a multitude of instruments. Sitar, Santoor, and tabla drums make up most of the music, and there is several players of each that begin to gather in the room.

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The welcoming hospitality of Kashmir University

Sitar has always been one of my favorite sounds, ever since I was very little. Music from the sitar has always taken me to a mystical place where I feel very comfortable, and is really the source of my desire to bring Banjo Earth to India. I’m so excited to finally get the opportunity to play with these instruments. Everyone gathers into the room, I get out my banjo, and the music begins. They keep it very simple to begin with, and it increases in complexity and difficulty. Raga is the main form of Indian classical music. It usually begins with a simple melody, then turns into an extended improvisation sometimes lasting 20 minutes or more.

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What a blast jamming with the music class!

We enjoy about an hour of jamming, which really pushes my boundaries and allows me to grow as a musician. Sometimes being thrown into the deep end is the best way to learn how to swim. We say goodbye, and head out for more adventures with our artist guide. We meet his daughter for lunch at a famous Srinagar restaurant and enjoy some delicious food and conversation. Masood and his daughter Mahi are very warm and lovely people, as are most of the Kashmiri’s we have met.

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Mahi, Masood’s daughter, and de-facto Banjo Earth Srinagar producer

The adventures do not stop here however, and they have arranged a meeting with a young and talented local band here for us at a nearby coffee shop. These guys are amazing, give some deeper insight into the area and the situation in which they live, and we make plans for a musical collaboration tomorrow. They are very excited about the possibilities of our musical fusion project, as am I, and the creative juices begin flowing.

Awesome meeting with Zeeshan and Qassam, two members of the band Meezan

It’s amazing that all of this planning and coordinating has been happening behind the scenes for us. My friend Khuram, who is really responsible for us being in Kashmir, has been pulling the scenes from a distance and creating these amazing opportunities for us. He is like the invisible angel of our project. Not only has he been setting all of this up, he arranged for our accommodations at the houseboat here in Srinagar, he opened up his apartment in Delhi for us to stay in, and his help has been gigantic in the success of this project.

Street art in Srinagar, the hidden engine behind Banjo Earth: Kashmir

As I’ve come to find out, once you make the decision to follow your dreams, create the work of your spirit, and go for it full force, the Universe comes to your aid. Most often this comes in the form of people who are of similar spirit, generous in their offerings, and pure in their soul. He, and all of the people who have helped us get here, have proven again that, though the world is full of problems, the world is full of love. And when your intentions and motivations align with that love, anything is possible. I’m so humbled and thankful to be on this journey with everyone, to share in the brilliance of this thing called life.

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If you follow your dreams, the Universe will assist you

Andy Eversole – Banjo Earth: India – Day 16 – The Joy and the Sorrow

Day 16 – The Joy and the Sorrow

This may the first time I’ve been apprehensive about a travel trip. At the invitation of a close friend of a close friend, I arranged 5 days in Kashmir. This is the region at the very North of India which borders Pakistan, Afghanistan, and China. It is hotly contested by all three countries, and especially the Kashmiris, a peaceful, resourceful people who are caught in the crossfire for the fight of ownership of their own homeland. Most travel sites warn against traveling there, and many people throughout India have had mixed reviews of the place.

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Feeling a little on edge heading to Kashmir

On one hand, many say Kashmir is the most beautiful place in the world. High snow-covered mountain tops circle picturesque lakes and rivers full of wildlife, trees, and flowers. On the other hand, many Indians say to stay away from Kashmir because of the acts of violence and terrorism that occur here. 2016 was a particularly bad year, with hundreds killed. I had begun to get over any fears I had of traveling here, until 3 days prior to the trip, the US, Britain, and France launched a offensive missile attack on Syria. This reality, and the continuous reality of the disasters of US foreign policy through the years, lodged like a bullet in the back of my brain. But, I knew we were in good hands with the people who were hosting us, and I knew that my heart, intentions, and banjo, usually keep harm from getting too close. The musical angels seem to enjoy keeping company with me on our journeys around the earth.

Angels keeping me company…one showed up as my plane neighbor

Regardless, this morning we were up and off on our new adventure at 7:30am, caught an Uber to the airport, went through security, and boarded the plane. The flight was quite nice, until the landing. The runway was wet and I could feel the pilot’s reluctance to hit the ground. He waited and waited, then finally touched down, at which point he had to slam on the brakes to keep from sliding off the end of the runway. Not perfect, but on the ground safe and sound.

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Touchdown in Srinagar

You could feel the tightened security immediately after walking off the plane. Security guards with semi-automatic weapons and numerous checkpoints welcome you to Kashmir. Luckily we have a car and driver there to pick us up, and smooth things over for a couple of weird foreigners with cameras and musical instruments. There is some talking and confusion with a couple of the guards and our driver, all of which disappear after I see him pull out some rupees and hand it to the guard. After that, we are on our way into Srinagar, the capital city of Kashmir. Driving away from the airport, security is still very heavy with armed military police flanking the streets and entrances to certain installments. I’m still pretty nervous but the driver and our guide seem alleviate my immediate fears.

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There’s a heavy vibe, just stepping off the plane in Srinagar

My hosting friend has made many arrangements for us while in Kashmir, and while I still haven’t ever really met him, except for over the phone, it feels as if he is with us all the time. He arranged our contacts, drivers, and for our accommodations for the night, which we soon find out is a lavish, ornate, beautiful houseboat on the lake. We pick up Mahi, a really friendly and intelligent Indian woman who has been making musical arrangements for us prior to our arrival. They take us to the boats which paddle across the lake to our new home. It is a very large, intricately wooden carved boat that looks fit for royalty. After a few of the places we’ve stayed on our trip, this place feels amazing. Lunch is waiting for us, and we settle down for some great conversations and really tasty food.

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Our houseboat home while in Kashmir

After getting into our rooms, we head out on the town. They first take us to the Mughal Gardens. These are beautifully cared for grounds and structures built by the Mughal empire hundreds of years ago. After being in Delhi, this place feels closer to heaven. Fresh air, quiet, peaceful people, and birds chirping provide the new soundtrack for our life. There is an amazing flute player sitting in the corner of the temple, I play a little banjo for a growing and appreciative crowd, and we begin to feel more comfortable in our surroundings.

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The flute music was incredible!

Next we are taken to a ancient library which is nestled on the side of a mountain above Srinagar. This place is full of mystic, positive, energetic forces which I can feel in my soul. It also provides a view of the area which is breathtaking. Looking out over the land and lakes, you can feel the history, the joy, the sorrow of the people and their plight here. No matter where you are, if you are here on Earth, there is always a balance of joy and sorrow. Life is sad, hard, and full of troubles, but is also full of the deepest ecstasy a human can feel. Such is life.

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The Joy and the Sorrow

Andy Eversole – Banjo Earth: India – Day 15 – Off the Beaten Path

Day 15 – Off the Beaten Path

One of my favorite things about the Banjo Earth project is the different places we go, people we meet, and experiences we have that most tourists will never know. Because we are working, and that work requires us to connect with all sorts of different characters, I find myself in some very interesting and strange situations. We go deeper into the neighborhoods, get invited into homes for dinner, enticed to regions that most tourists wouldn’t even consider visiting, and this is all of the beauty of Banjo Earth. Of course, we have to hit a few of the hotspots, the Taj Mahal, a few of the world famous temples and markets, but by and large, the story comes from the people, seeing the true nature and life of India, and the things that happen away from the palaces and five star tourist centers.

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Trekking off the beaten path

Such was the case today. Much of the earlier part of the day was spent working on recordings for the album. I first must set a tempo map, with a rhythm track, so that other musicians can listen to what I’ve played, and add their special spice. This requires arranging the song, finding a tempo that works for banjo and other instruments, and recording a base track from which to work. I’ve found, in all the work I’ve done for this project, the simpler the better. Getting too complicated too fast makes it exponentially complicated later. Starting simple allows room to grow, and affords the musicians I work with space with which to express their artistry.

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Start with simple

I complete the basis for 3 tunes, take a short power nap, and head for some Delhi adventures. One of the people I connected with on Instagram before I came, was Alok, aka the Human Library. He is a coder, entrepreneur, photographer, and poet. We have plans to meet with him, and go together to his friends’ house who are all a bunch of talented musicians. We will share stories, music, culture, fun, and whatever else may come our way. The metro is our planned mode of transport this day, but as we try to go through the turnstile, our digital cards do not work. We just put 500 rupees on each card last visit to the metro, so I know something is wrong with them. The customer counter basically closes in my face, people are cutting in line without a second thought, and instead of dealing with these inconveniences, I suggest hailing an Uber ride.

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Sometimes you need a Plan B

Uber works well in India, if you are in a secluded place where the car and passenger can easily find each other. But at this particular metro, rickshaws, people, bikes, cars, everything is everywhere, and it is a real challenge. So that Uber ride gets canceled, and we hop in a rickshaw for the hour ride over to Noida, the next town over from Delhi for our meeting. By this time we are about an hour late, but things don’t always go as planned, and our friends are very understanding and excited to see us.

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Negotiations for our next ride

They take us to the apartment which is basically empty of furniture, except for one room with a bed, a kitchen, and one room dedicated to music. In here there is a harmonium, a couple of guitars, some percussion instruments, and a padded blanket on which to sit and make music. We get out the instruments and the music commences. It takes a minute for us to find each other’s groove, but eventually we get there. I learn an Indian raga melody from them, teach them Cumberland Gap, and old American folk song, then we record a Bollywood cover sang by one of their friends who is a fine vocalist.

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Jams with the crew

For the album, my idea was to have Alok recite one of his poems in Hindi, which I would later record some banjo over. We eventually get the place quiet enough for recording to capture his recital. I’m not sure the translation, but he will later send me the English version for use. I’m pretty sure it’s about his ex-girlfriend. At the very end of the jam, their roommate, the musical master of the house, returns from an errand, and treats us to an amazing performance of an old Indian composition. He played the harmonium, sang in a soulful, forlorn, manner, and expressed himself deeply to our delight.

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This guys is a musical powerhouse

We packed up, said goodbye, and began the long trek back to our home stay in Delhi. The rickshaw ride from their neighborhood to the metro was one of the more grungier scenes I’ve experienced in India. The air quality was extremely poor, smoke from burning was everywhere, and the vibe was deep deep India. Happy to get back, home, we had a meal waiting for us prepared by Kannan the cook. Chicken curry, vegetables, and rice made for an amazing ending to a wonderful day.

Wow that was good!

Andy Eversole – Banjo Earth: India – Day 14 – The Human Computer

Day 14

The Human Computer

Humans are like computers in so many ways, except for, of course, that whole soul thing. We can only take in so much information at a time, we respond according to our operating (belief) system, we can be programmed and updated, and we need to recharge our batteries when we’re running low. Today was planned as such… a recharge day, a free day, an open day, to with as we please..and it was awesome!

Starting the day out with a delicious omelette and toast~

I spent a large portion of the day just playing banjo. A lot of times when traveling, though I have it on my back, the environment doesn’t allow me to play or practice. It could be too noisy and disturb neighbors, it could be a spiritual or tourist place that doesn’t allow it. But today, I stayed in my room, and played. Thinking about and arranging the album is my main goal at this point. I’ve been contemplating, composing, arranging this album in my mind for months. The next two weeks with be the primary execution of it, and I want to be ready.

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Getting into the “zone”

Prior to traveling here, I spent a lot of time reaching out to artists in India through social media, Instagram in particular. Many of those have panned out, and some have not. The first two weeks of the trip here was really 1) getting acquainted with India and becoming comfortable in the surroundings, and 2) solidifying these relationships and setting up collaborative meetings. Week three, which we are in the middle of, is mostly traveling to different places in India to get a deeper understanding of the country. Week four will be spent bringing everything together and recording the album. That is why I’m doing all I can now to prepare, so to make that process and seamless and successful as possible.

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Things are really starting to come together for the project

Throughout the day, besides playing banjo, I also spent some time handling logistics for future meetings, paying bills, and even set up some Bollywood dance classes. I’m really excited for that! Later in the evening I set out for a walk to the grocery store to pick up a few items. Upon leaving the building, I heard some tabla drums rapping away in the distance, and also the faint sound of sitar. My heart fluttered. Like a dog on a scent, I began tracking down the source of the sounds, eventually finding my way to a beautiful park where a three piece Indian classical band was giving a wonderful performance. One hundred or so people, mostly older Indian folks, were sitting quietly enjoying the music. There were a few open seats in the front row, so I made my way there, sat down, and began absorbing the rich vibes of the sounds.

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Adventures around every corner!

An amazing singer who also played the harmonium led the band, the tabla player kept rhythm with grace, style, and funkiness, and the keyboard player added that element of harmony and melody. This was my first true taste of live classical music, and it did not disappoint! After talking with the drummer post show, he informed me they would be flying back to Calcutta, their home, the next day. I was a little sad, because I was really hoping for a Banjo Earth collaboration with them. But I did get the drummer’s info, and we agreed to a future partnership. He was such a sweet and loving man, looking at me periodically during the performance and smiling, noticing how much I was enjoying it. Their music left me with a sense of peace and excitement. A wonderful combination!

This wonderful band’s music lefty me feeling energized and thankful

I texted my video ninja Paul when I found the music to come check it out and record, but after packing, walking, and having a little trouble finding it, he arrived just as the last song ended. So, after the performance, we set out for one of my favorite nearby neighborhoods, some back alleyways similar to the hutongs of Beijing, and I took him to a bustling corner way back off the beaten path. There we found some friendly, smiling faces, a welcoming nature, some of the best naan bread in all of India, and a spicy helping of tandoori chicken. We said goodbye, walked home, and enjoyed a nice cold beer with our street food finds. All in all it was a beautiful day full of music, food, and cultural exchange. An extraordinary day to be sure, but a delightfully typical day of a Banjo Earth expedition. The batteries are charged, the programs are running smoothly, and the operating system is ever more open to the heart and mysteries of the Universe.

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Thank you for your hospitality, India

Andy Eversole – Banjo Earth: India – Day 13 – Delhi is Home

Day 13 – Delhi is Home

It’s amazing to me the quickness with which humans can become comfortable in their surroundings. It seems as if it’s a very ancient and profound wisdom, buried deep in our DNA. It only takes a few days, even in a place that is extremely different from what you’ve been used to, for one to become “at home” in a new place. In my travels around the globe, this happens to me over and over again, yet never ceases to create a sense of wonder about what it means to be human, and what it means to be home.

Leaving Jaipur, the Pink City

This is the feeling I got upon returning to New Delhi today, after a spectacular four day jaunt through the Golden Triangle of India. This is the name for the region that is connected by New Delhi, the capital of India; Agra, which is 3 hours south and the home of the famous Taj Mahal; and Jaipur, 3 hours directly west of Agra, which is the capital of the state of Rajasthan. In this four day tour I’ve seen things that will never be forgotten, namely the image of the pristine white dome of the Taj Mahal as the sunrise began to peak through the clouds. As well as a religious and musical festival procession leading through the streets of Jaipur, that could just have well been located on a street in New Orleans, Louisiana.

So thankful to catch the Shama band parading through the streets!

The day began with coffee and an omelette at our comfy Airbnb. Our driver, Samir was scheduled to meet us at 9. He was on time, and so were we. We hopped in, and began our the last leg of our tour, the 4 hour journey back to New Delhi. He stopped at the Water Palace on the way out of town, but as stated in the previous blog, I we had become wary of the tourist funnels, and I politely asked if we could just skip it and get back on the road, to which he obliged. The ride through the countryside was beautiful yet uneventful. That is, until we hit a standstill traffic jam. Traffic jams in India are a bit different, in that cars and trucks are backing out, turning around, stuck, any and all manner of traffic patterns can be found in an Indian traffic jam. The golden rule, according to Samir, is not to stop, because if you do, you could be sitting for hours. So our only path was to careen down off the highway into a farming field.

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The only path around the traffic jam…through the fields!

It seemed like an adventurous move at first, but soon started feeling like a deathtrap. We agreed to get out and push if anything went wrong, which it certainly looked like it would. It was all tilled soil, hard dust, and mud. The first major bump got him stuck, but with a little maneuvering and some pushing, we pressed onward. The next obstacle was a gigantic mud hole with about 10 farmers just sitting around it. I suggested that Paul and I get out of the car to lighten the load a bit, and Samir went full speed ahead through the mud, slinging earth in every direction. Miraculously he made it through, we hopped back in, drove back up onto the highway, and were somehow on the other side of the traffic jam. He’s been driving these roads for over 20 years, and it showed off with this impressive display of skill, bravery, and stupidity 😉

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Rolling through the storms, traffic jams, and farm fields with Samir, the best driver in India

Pulling into our neighborhood back in Delhi, it felt like we were returning home. That’s the feeling I spoke of earlier, and it was quite stark and clear this time around. I’m really beginning to feel the heartbeat of India, the energy of it’s streets, the spirit of it’s people. It takes a minute, but once you begin to hear the melody of the song, it sounds like home.

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Feeling the heartbeat of India

Andy Eversole – Banjo Earth: India – Day 12 – Peeling Back the Layers

Day 12 – Peeling Back the layers

Almost nothing in India is as it seems. Layer upon layer lies in a maze of smiles, motivations, and business. As we awoke from our “designated” hotel that was “recommended” by our driver, we began to come to a realization of the whole mechanism at work. He miraculously came out outside just as we did, as he had been sleeping in the guest house at the same hotel. Which would have been fine, but the place was a dump, and we didn’t even have running water in the morning. Our plan was to find a nearby cafe for our traditional coffee and internet ritual. Our driver assured us nothing was open, and “suggested” a nearby restaurant that he knew was really good.

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Entering the Pink City of Jaipur, Rajasthan, India

This was the moment I decided to jump completely off the train. We had inadvertently got ourselves wrapped up in a complex web of funnel tourism. Everything is connected. The hotels, the restaurants, the things to see, the tour guides, the demonstrations, they all provide kickbacks and favors behind the scenes. It’s a feeling like the Truman show, when you finally realize the true nature of what’s happening. Right then I decided to go off the reservation, to go rogue. I told him we would check out that restaurant, get some coffee, and call him in about 2 hours. He had a whole day of expensive pre-planned activities for us. That would be the last time we saw him for the day.

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Sometimes you have to just jump in a Rickshaw and bounce!

We jumped in a rickshaw and told the driver to take us to an Indian coffee shop. There we met a very nice older gentleman who invited us to sit with him. Thus began the next web of adventures. I ordered some coffee and a tasty omelette, and enjoyed some nice conversation with our new companion.

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Sharing the banjo gospel with our new friend

He was a retired teacher and writer, who was passionate about his coin collection. He loved the pursuit of gathering every American quarter from every state, and all the other half and full dollar coins of our Presidents. I told to him to soon be on the lookout for the new Trump coin, coming soon. Haha! Of course he invited us to his house for lunch, and one to hardly ever turn down these invitation, of course I accepted. We set plans for 1pm and headed to the Airbnb to check in. Compared to last night, this place was a palace. Plenty of room, very clean, swimming pool, and friendly staff.

This seems to have been the check-in ritual at the Airbnb

After a 30 minute relax period we set off for our friend’s house. All we had to go on was an address, so it was a bit like a scavenger hunt. We kept getting closer and closer, asking people along the way, finding our path through a maze of cars, motorcycles, cows, alleys, and markets. We eventually found it and settled in for an awesome, simple, easy lunch. Afterward showing us his US quarter collection, he broke out some samples of his batik artwork, a specialized skill of dying cloth to make colorful images. He said they took 10-15 days to create and that he didn’t make them anymore. I expressed interest in buying one and he was surprisingly open to idea. So, I bought a couple of gifts, which by India standards, were quite expensive, and we set off down the road.

Our friend and his batik work

Around the corner was our next destination, Jantar Mantar. This is a courtyard next to the Imperial palace that contained an exciting collection of ancient astronomical observation structures. All were aligned with the sun, moon, and planets to track the celestial bodies and their movements. Given my affinity for space and the stars, I always enjoy these ancient astronomy sights. At the end of the tour there was a traditional Rajasthani band playing music and selling handmade puppets.

The ancient astronomical structures of Jantar Mantar

They saw my instrument on my back, and invited me to sit in with them. This was my first true jam while in India, so I was really excited to play. We played for about five minutes, occasionally creating some special musical moments. As the crowd began to gather around, so did the security guards, and they asked me to stop playing, much to the ire of everyone enjoying it. Alas, the perils of a life filled with banjo.

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Jams with the street band at Jantar Mantar

The rest of the day was filled with swimming, dinner, and a nighttime search for live music, which was largely unsuccessful. We did find a dance club and a rooftop bar however, and enjoyed our last night in Jaipur sipping a Kingfisher beer and showing off our best dance moves.

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Dancing the night away in Jaipur

Though all is not as it seems, and the layers must be peeled back and continuously untangled, the heart of India beats strong and true. It’s hidden away, packed deep inside of a loaf of naan bread. But once you find it, once you see it’s true colors, your life is forever changed.

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The heart of India beats strong and true

Andy Eversole – Banjo Earth: India – Day 11 – The Golden Triangle

Day 11 – The Golden Triangle

5:15 comes early. We get ourselves together, pack our gear, and meet the guide by 5:30 at our home stay gate. The morning is quiet but windy, as a rainstorm and cloud cover moves in. I can feel the electricity in the air, and in my body. Today we have just a 10 minute walk to one of the most amazing structures in the world, The Taj Mahal. Our guide, Imran, leads us along the road to the grounds, briskly. Though it’s 5:30 in the morning, the crowds are already beginning to arrive.

Entrance to the Grounds

Sunrise at the the Taj is one of the most coveted experiences available to us earthly mortal humans. We get our tickets, shoe covers, bottled water, and the tour begins. He begins explaining to us the history, the different structures surrounding, and the meaning of all the symbolism. The symmetry of every last detail is incredible. It’s all laid out perfectly, according to the math, the sun, and the Muslim religion behind its creation. All together, you get a feeling of cosmic wonder and amazement, mixed with the exactness of mathematical perfection.


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Through the Gate

As we walk through the main gate, the white marble of the main structure seems to rise right out of the ground and right up to heaven. The majestic emotions you feel when you first come upon it are hard to describe with words. Only music, love, the birdsong, and the monkeys perched along the tops of the surrounding walls seem to hint at its deeper message. Though the clouds protect us from the sun, it peaks its face out a few times, glistening and parading through a spectrum of colors that reflect off of the pristine white marble of the dome. As the sun finally breaks through completely, spiritual bliss takes hold, and the poem with which this amazing monument to love was written, is finally recited in its entirety.

Sunrise at the amazing Taj Mahal

After leaving the grounds, we are whisked off by our driver, guide, and a whole concoction of tourist trap mechanisms designed to separate us from our money. I always respect the hustle, but finally begin to glimpse all of the instruments at work in this symphony of capitalism. They take us to a “presentation” of the primitive stone and wooden tools used to create all of the elegant marble work found in the mausoleum. After explaining the technique for a few minutes, he leads us downstairs and begins one of the most impressive sales jobs I’ve seen. Beautiful marble artwork fills several rooms, ranging from huge dinner tables to miniature elephants. My Banjo Earth budget forbids me to partake in these activities, though that chess set was amazing. After some hard nose negotiations, Paul buys a gift for his girlfriend and we’re off.

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The stone art “presentation”

After fully coming to a realization of what was really happening, I politely declined the next “presentation”. We instead opted for a spot behind the Taj Mahal, which gave us a far off view of the dome and a great opportunity for a banjo video. Though this experience is the opportunity of a lifetime, it was only 12pm, and we still had half a day to go. So, we dropped off our guide, tipped him, and began our 4 hour trek to Jaipur, the capital city of Rajasthan.

Recording in the fields behind the Taj

Sleep took me over for the first part of the drive, but after wakening, I was treated to a beautiful drive through the countryside of India. Wheat fields, brick smokestacks, women carrying things on their head, camels, buffalo, peacocks, kids playing pick-up games of India’s national pastime, cricket…It was all there. This drive really began to give me a sense of the vastness, the beauty, the truth, that is India.


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Driving through the Indian countryside

Just before reaching Jaipur, we stopped at a place called the Monkey Temple. It is a series of temples and structures tucked away on a mountain, that house three to four thousand monkeys. Our first stop was the Temple of Shiva, the Cobra Goddess, where I was anointed with an orange design on my forehead. As went went further back in the mountain, the monkeys began gathering around. Five or ten here, twenty more there, until there were hundreds all around us, jumping, walking, playing, and occasionally fighting. As you hand them a peanut, their human like five fingered paws reach out to take them like a small infant, but with the grace and curiosity of an old soul.

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Just monkeying around the Monkey Temple

There is a natural amphitheater at the very top of the mountain filled with water that provided a perfect place for some music. I got out the banjo, pulled out my slide, and played my tune “9 finger Blues” to the Gods, the monkeys, myself, and anyone else who dared to listen.

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A little bit of that 9 Finger Blues

As darkness began to set in, the guide warned is it was time to go, as the leapord who lives at the top of the mountain would be coming down soon. We headed out, got back in the car with Samir, and settled into to our overly modest hotel for a night of somewhat restless sleep. These are the days of Banjo Earth: India.

The Monkey Temple is an unforgettable place, just off the beaten path

Andy Eversole – Banjo Earth: India – Day 10 – Journey to Taj Mahal

Day 10

Journey to Taj Mahal
We are excited to get out of Delhi for a few days. I’ve been here now for over a week, and though I am quite fond of the place, I’m ready to visit some other parts of this incredible country. Today the plan is to visit one of the most iconic buildings on the planet, the enigmatic and spectacular Taj Mahal. Our idea is to catch a day train into Agra, the location of the Taj Mahal, spend the night in an Airbnb, and ride the train back tomorrow to Delhi. So we pack our things, and head out of the house around noon to get this next adventure started.
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Central Delhi Train Station
Finding our way to the train station and buying a ticket feels sort of like stumbling through the dark. We find the station no problem, but the ticket buying process is not that easy. The teller same something in hindi and points us off in another direction. There is an older guy standing by who sees what is happening, and directs us to the foreign tourist office which is around 2 kilometers away. He walks us outside and gets a rickshaw ride to the office. The driver is a wild man and seems to think he is a helicopter, which makes for an interesting ride to the office. But we make it with no incidents to speak of, and sit down for some travel negotiations.
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Life in the fast lane
As we look at the available trains, he informs us that the trains are actually, no trains available. They all seem to be sold out for the day. He assures that he can provide us our own personal driver for the trip, and that also we should really think about spending a few more days going to Jaipur and seeing more of India along the way. I’m not sure if this was the plan all along, but it seems to start making sense. This guy is quite the salesman. We end up agreeing to a three day trip with a personal driver, Samir, who walks in at the end of our negotiations, and we’re soon off on our journey.
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With Samir Khan, the best taxi driver in India
Samir is really nice guy, and I’m glad he’s our host for this journey. As we start to head out, he asks if it’s ok that he stop by a tire shop near his house to get a new tire for the car, and says we can come in for a visit with his family and to have some tea. Of course, I say sure, no problem, and before too long, we are in a very strange, very dirty neighborhood, walking up flights of stair to his apartment. Inside we find his wife and three daughters, who seem delighted to see us. I play some banjo for them, and as usual, that works to really warm them up to us. It’s amazing the power the banjo has to open doors and hearts in this world. After hanging for awhile, we get some gas, air in the tires, and we’re back on the road to Agra.
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The road to Agra
It’s about a three hour drive from Delhi to the Taj Mahal. The drive is a beautiful journey through the Indian countryside, which is full of wheat fields, brick firing smoke stacks, and the occasional camel, buffalo, peacock, and cricket game. I thoroughly enjoy the ride and all of the conversations I had with Samir as Paul slept in the back seat. We covered love, life, politics, Indian and American culture, work, and all kinds of other pressing matters.. We reach Agra around dark, check into our Airbnb, and settle in for the night.
Banjo Earth at the Agra Airbnb 
On the rooftop of the building, we can see the outline of the majestic Taj Mahal in the distance, and it really gets me excited for our sunrise visit to this amazing place. After a short walk, dinner, and catching up on some administrative matters, it’s time for bed. Hopefully pleasant dreams of love and light await. Another full day of wonder and adventure for the Banjo Earth crew.
The shadow of the Taj Mahal excites me for tomorrow’s sunrise visit